By Omonu Nelson
A time-tested saying goes “what a man can do women can do even better.” The question that should be agitating our minds is, if the foregoing is true, why do we still have six percent women representation in countries like Nigeria. Though the overall average of women political participation/representation in Africa stands at 24 percent. With astounding 60 percent women representation in Parliament, countries like Rwanda in Africa, doing exceedingly well in women empowerment.
In January, 2023 Sierra Leone took the lead in the West African subregion, with the passage of of a Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment bill 2022, which guarantees specific number of seats/positions for women. It’s obvious progress are being made, howbeit, at snail speed.
Experts have adduced sociocultural and economic issues as some of the obstacles inhibiting women empowerment in the subregion. In a bid to heighten advocacy, while sustaining the momentum already attained, ECOWAS Female Parliamentarians Association (ECOFEPA) held a Townhall meeting at the ECOWAS Commission secretariat in Abuja, at the weekend.
The Town Hall meeting with the theme : “Stimulating a regional Dynamics for Mentoring the Next Generation of Decision Makers”, drew over 350 women and young people across the subregion to participate and network as a way of rejuvenating democracy by giving voice to Women and Youth.
Declaring the ceremony opened, the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament Hon. Sidie Mohamed Tunis said the ECOWAS Parliament terms women and youth empowerment as a major key in ensuring democracy in the subregion.
He said that the meeting provided an opportunity for constituents to have face to face interaction with their representatives which is the first time since the formation to bring over three hundred and fifth women and youth under one hall for the purpose of sharing experiences and ideas that are geared towards complementing regional integration, women and youth development and progress in West Africa.
He said the People’s Parliament under his leadership has recognised the special role of Women and Youths as actors, agents and beneficiaries of development, which has led the Fifth Parliament to take concrete commitments and tangible actions to ensure the integration of the gender dimensions in all planned actions and activities of the parliament, including policies and programmes.
He also noted that the allocation of a budget line to the ECOFEPA, in the ECOWAS Parliament annual budget has facilitated the empowerment of women and strengthened the fight against Gender-Based discrimination.
Speaker Tunis used the occasion to commend the steps taken by member states to address gender issues especially the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Julius Maada Bio, who recently signed into law, the landmark Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment bill 2022 that guarantees the principals of inclusion, participation and more responsive posture on gender.
He expressed hope that the similar action will be replicated in all member states.
Chief of State, Barr. Emeka Nwala, who delivered the keynote address on behalf of the Former Governor of Abia State and Current Chief Whip of Nigerian Senate, Senator Oriji Uzo Kalu, pointed out the difference between mentorship and godfathership; the latter which he says is dangerous and does not create an enabling environment for growth and development, compared to the former which helps impact positively on the mentee.
He advocated for more mentorship programme, lauding the initiative by the ECOWAS Female Parliamentarians Association.
In a goodwill message, the Country Representative of UN Women, Beatrice Eyong, thanked the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, for dedicating a budget line for the activities of ECOFEPA. She however bemoaned the low representation of women in politics, insisting that the domination of the political space by one gender cannot continue to be encouraged, especially with the increase number of women and youth in the region.
In a welcome address, the President of the ECOWAS Female Parliamentarians Association (ECOFEPA) Hon. Worayr Sarr said that the activity is strategically tied to the ECOWAS vision 2050 shared value and a desire to have a common future maintaining that the objective can be realized if women are given more importance.
She said that with over 350 women and youth gathered across the subregion, they are hoping to increase the number 10,000 by 2030 While speaking on the increase of women participation in politics, Hon. Sarr recommended that various Government and MPs in the region should proactively and progressively implement the 30% quota in their respective parliaments and delegations.
Also speaking, Ann Iyonu, the Executive Director of Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, urged the West Africa region to prioritise women and youth representation in governance as a way of improving the appalling percentage of women and youth participation in politics and governance in West African sub-region.
According to Iyonu, only inclusive democracy can thrive and work well, if women and youths are its major component that should play critical roles in Leadership and governance.
She further stated that the TownHall meeting is aimed at giving voice to women and youth is timely but expressed disappointment over the low percentage of women elected in the next Assembly of Nigeria.
She also noted that women and youth representatives especially in the Parliaments of the West Africa region is very low compared to other regions in Africa where the gap has increasingly and progressively narrowed.
According to Iyonu, in West Africa, only 15.7 percent of the average proportion of seats held by women in the national Parliaments which means the region is lacking behind other Parliaments in Africa like East Africa with 30.8 percent, Central Africa 21.7 percent, North Africa with 20.3 percent.
She stressed that there should be a conscious deliberate effort in changing the status quo of women and youth through Education programs that will boost the knowledge and skills of women and youth in the civic engagement, politics, leadership and public speaking through mentorship and networking opportunities.
She noted that special seats should be dedicated to women and youth to increase the numbers, “this might not be something we like to hear, out various governments will not like to hear it but one of the measures which we can use to increase the participation of women is to dedicate special seats to increase representation of women and youths in Political positions especially in parliament to inspire and encourage more women and young people in politics,” she said.
She ended up stating that the adoption of technologies in politics will attract women and youths to participate in politics which will change the narrative.
The Regional Chairman of the West Africa Youth Assembly, Emmanuel Chea urged for the establishment of the ECOWAS Youth Parliament, incorporation of West Africa Youth Assembly as part of ECOWAS Parliament and ECOWAS Commission election monitoring team and the establishment of the ECOWAS Youth envoy. Ending his address, he lauded the Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament Hon. Sidie Mohamed Tunis for being a man of the youth and women.